Marinara Sauce On The Vine

by: Marlene email

Just Getting Started

The Eastern Shore,  especially Northampton County,  is  the prime agricultural spot  in the entire state  of  Virginia.   This has been the case since the early 1600’s  when the county was first settled by the Virginia Company of London, (remember Sir Walter Raleigh ?).   Our level, rock- free lands,  sandy, loamy soils and good rainfalls  have made farming  a profitable enterprise here.  Additionally, our mild climate, moderated by the waters of  the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean which surround this slender peninsula  on 3 sides, offers farmers the option of  being able to harvest at least two crops each year.  Often an early crop of potatoes, for example, is followed by late soybeans  and later still by a cover crop of winter rye.  Obviously this is  more profitable than the one crop to which many farmers in other area are limited.

Maintaining the rural feel of the Eastern Shore and maintaining agriculture and aquaculture as two of our prime economic engines  is an important goal as set forth in the Northampton County Comprehensive Plan,  a public-input document which provides guidance to the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission as they  make various land use and other decisions. ( )    We have a lot of open space and our little waterfront/water access neighborhoods are nestled in between family farms.  Unlike the large farming operations out West where individual  farms may often be several thousand acres in size,  most family farms here are  200-400  acres and have been passed down through the generations.  Land preservation trusts are becoming quite popular here in an effort to help maintain farm land yet still offer current owners some financial benefits.

About Ready To Pick

Although,  in days gone by,  when more labor was available for hand-picking the truck crops such as strawberries,  asparagus, lima beans, etc.  which were grown here then   (in fact at one time 11 canneries operated on the Eastern Shore),  nowadays the most prevalent commercial crops are potatoes,  tomatoes,  soybeans and string beans,  with bell peppers, cabbage and cucumbers coming in a distant second.   (Of course,  our little farmers markets here have a wide range of local fruits and vegatables grown by their owners to serve  the local community .  I especially love the local peaches and cantalopes, sweet,  juicy,  completely delicious.) 

Marinera Sauce On The Vine

 Of the large commercial crops grown here ,  the most colorful are the tomatoes.  Most tomatoes are picked while still green so that they can be boxed and shipped without bruising to  grocery stores throughout the Eastern Seaboard.  Driving past hundreds of acres of  pale green tomatoes gleaming in the sun is a pretty impressive sight.   But after the second or third picking , when the very best have been harvested for slicing tomatoes,  the rest of the crop is  left to  ripen on the vine to send to the canneries for catsup,  stewed tomatoes.  V-8,  tomato paste,  etc.    You name it,  if it’s tomato and processed  on the East Coast,  then it’s likely our Eastern Shore tomatoes are adding to the flavors.   Which is why, when I am driving along the back roads this time of year and seeing large baskets  full of the pale green globes being  picked from the fields,  I know that deep red marinara sauce on the vine will shortly  follow,  the essential ingredient in the delicious Chicken Cacciatore or Eggplant Parmesan which I look forward to fixing when the cool autumn weather arrives.

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